Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Rough and Tumble (and Romantic) Historical West

by | September 11, 2009 | 10 comments

My love affair with the historical western started when I was about 8 or 9 and my dad began reading me the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I was obsessed with watching the TV show when I got home from school and Dad wanted to share with me the stories that inspired the show. In junior high school my love affair with the western continued with the short lived TV series “The Young Riders”, about the Pony Express, featuring some real life people like Jimmy “Wild Bill” Hickock and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. My 13 year old self wanted nothing more than to have one of these dashing riders come to my rescue. In fact, my first ever historical western story was based off the show (I was writing fan fiction before I even knew what it was!). Other shows like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Deadwood” soon followed and further fueled my love of this time period. Oddly enough I don’t enjoy most movie westerns.

When I started reading romances in my late teens, I was drawn to the historicals and mostly drawn to the westerns. The truly wonderful authors who write this genre took me to a time and a place that I’d loved since I was a child. When I decided to take my love of writing and pursue being published, a historical western romance was my first project.

So why the historical west? My simple answer is: variety. The historical west was a vast place, there are stories written from the Canadian Yukon to the Mexican border, from the plains of Minnesota to the coasts of Oregon and everywhere in between. It was a time of change and exploration in our country’s history. The time period is just as vast as the places, from before the Civil War, to during that conflict to afterward through the turn of the century and even beyond.

Then there are the story arcs. Of course historical westerns have their clichés just like any other genre, but for me it’s much harder to happen upon the same story arc over and over in westerns than with other genres. The types of characters and conflicts within a historical western are as vast as the time period and setting. People of all faiths, races and economic status headed out to settle the west. One couldn’t venture into this place during this time and be a wimp. The heroines were already strong or came to find a strength they didn’t know they possessed, often out of pure necessity to survive. The heros were rugged, tough and mostly lived by their own rules in a place where law was practically non-existent. The couples that came together could have been different as night and day and yet managed to find true love despite all the odds.

I love doing research and I love being able to experience a place first hand. My family’s travels when I was younger seemed to center on road trips through my native Minnesota, into South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I’ve been to Register Rock in Idaho and stood in the spot where Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickock. I’ve stood at the Little Big Horn Battlefield and at the place Laura Ingalls once called home. These experiences have helped to fuel my love for this time period even more.

I’d love to know what others think of historical western romances. Do you read them? Who are some of your favorite authors? What other time periods do you enjoy reading and can you give me any recommendations?

Among my favorite historical western romance authors are Linda Lael Miller, Sarah McCarty and Stacey Kane . As a whole I don’t really enjoy Regencies but perhaps you can suggest something that might change my mind? I have read a couple of medieval stories that have led me to think this might be a time period I’d love to explore more of. I also really enjoy time travel romance.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the Seduced By History blog who allowed those of us in the Hearts Through History RWA chapter who aren’t yet published the opportunity to blog here this month. So thank you!


  1. Molly

    Great post! I remember the 'Little House Books' but am too old to recall the TV show. I do remember most of the westerns of the '50's. Oddly, I never read one until recently. I read Black Hats (not a romance) and loved it. Now I have to find more. As to the movies, I could watch Tombstone until the Ben and Jerry's is gone! I think you nailed the appeal of the era. Oddly enough, it's the same thing that makes me like Regencies. Any period where massive social change is reshaping people's lives is rife with conflict and, hence, full of good stories. OK, now I gotta find me some Westerns!

  2. Gwynlyn MacKenzie

    For me, westerns became real in shows like Paladin, Maverick, Gunsmoke, and The Lawman. I am, however, drawn to the medieval era for my own writing. I have enjoyed a number of contemporary westerns and Linda Lael Miller's stories, however. Of course, I'll read a cereal box if there is naught else about, so I'm no good as a yardstick!

  3. Shelli Stevens

    Hi, Colleen! I enjoy American Westerns as well! I really wish there were more of them! Other time period I adore is Medieval. Can't get enough of it. But really, anything historical and I'm hooked. Except Regencies. I know it's weird, but I just can't get into them.

  4. Kathleen Bittner Roth

    Hi Colleen:

    Have you read "True Women?" or perhaps seen the made-for-tv western based on the diaries of a woman's relative? I used to stay at a B&B in the town in Texas where it took place. Got me interested in the genre. I can't get into Regencies either. I wonder if there is a connection between the perfunctory manners of the Regency period and the opposite wild west? I write in Victorian times but with heroines who really push the envelope of decorum. However, I am beginning a kind of western…goes from New Orleans to San Francisco via the wagon train. I love the research!

  5. Colleen Mold

    Molly – you make a great point about how times of social change can make for great conflict – I hope you find a great western to enjoy – start with any of the authors that I mentioned – thanks for stopping by!

    Gwynlyn – I'm with you – I'll read a phone book if there's nothing else – and contemporary westerns are fun as well 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

    Shelli! Thanks for stopping by! I've really started to enjoy medieval more and more – I'm not really much of a regency person either…maybe we're just not reading the right ones? 🙂

    Kathleen – No, I haven't read that but I'll check it out – your WIP about the wagon train sounds interesting! Can't wait to read it!

  6. Lise

    The West – wherever the story takes place – was populated with larger than life characters. And we can populate our books with the same people! Wild folk, courageous folk – people taking their lives and fortunes into their own hands to risk on a dream of a better life. From cattle barons to barroom dancers, the drama of the West cannot be beat.

    I haven't read much Western romance lately though I loved it for years. Your post has convinced me that I'm missing out, so back to the West I go!

    Other historical eras that I enjoy are the Gilded Age in the US and the Victorian era in England – because we had moved into the industrial age and life got faster, wilder and grittier for everyone. World War II, as well, because,like the American West, the conflict and drama in a WWII novel is the highest it can be – life and death and love and romance in the midst of the War.

  7. Virginia

    My favorite time period in American History is the Old West of the mid to late 1800's. I love Westerns. My whole family gathered together and watched shows like Gunsomoke, The Big Valley, Bonanza, and The Virginian. Great, great shows!

  8. Kathryn Albright

    Enjoyed your post Colleen! I enjoyed watching the "Saturday" westerns on TV like Virginia mentioned. I also enjoyed the big movies with James Stewart, Charlton Heston, John Wayne–of the heyday of movie westerns. I too like Linda Lael Miller and Stacy Kayne, but also Pam Crook and Cheryl St. John. I'm broadening my scope of western writers and finding more I like everyday. Thanks for posting!

  9. Patricia Barraclough

    Nice post. Love all historicals, but westerns are a favorite for most of the same reasons you mentioned. The West was a great leveler. It was your ability that counted. You had to be smart and strong not just well connected or upper class to succeed. I have many favorite authors.
    If you want to try someone who writes an historical well, try Julie Garwood. She has switched to modern romantic suspense, but her first books were historicals. She wrote Regency, Medieval, and had 4 Westerns. The Westerns were a three book series starting with For The Roses. There is one stand alone book that starts in England but ends in the West. She will be a good sampler for the different time periods.

  10. Tanya Hanson

    Great post~ I grew up on TV westerns…Bonanza is probably my favorite show of all time, and lately, Dr. Quinn just stole my heart. And I think my parents encourged my love of the West with frequent campouts in the High Sierras. Therefore, I read them (although I read most anything LOL) and write them.

    I love the strong foremothers who shaped life as we know it. As well as the men they loved. Thanks again for this wonderful post.




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